A conversation with Michael Ian Black

4 Aug

Photo courtesy Michael Ian Black.

Michael Ian Black needs no introduction.

Ugh, OK, fine. He’s a comedian and an actor and a tweeter. I asked him if I could do an interview to promote “Very Famous,” his upcoming Comedy Central stand-up special. Mostly I just wanted to grill him about his recent diagnosis of bursitis in his elbow. Does that count as gotcha journalism? Maybe. Here is a complete transcript of our conversation—you decide!

Louis Peitzman: Normally I prepare a bunch of questions in advance, but I just wrote these in the last five minutes. So they’re going to be really…
Michael Ian Black: This is going to be a freewheeling conversation.
LP: Yes. Basically. I wanted to start by asking the question on all of our minds, which is, how is your elbow feeling today?
MIB: Thank you for asking, and I know that everybody is concerned. I’ve been getting a lot of emails, a lot of texts, some telegrams from overseas. And the thing that everyone wants to know is, what’s going on with your elbow? Is your elbow OK? Are you gonna die? And after seeing the doctor, he prescribed some antibiotics for my bursitis, and he told me I should start feeling better within 48 hours. So, we’re gonna see. I think we’re all entering the wait-and-pray period right now.
LP: Are you disappointed that it’s not gout?
MIB: I am disappointed. Well, I’m disappointed because I really liked saying that I have gout, and I really liked saying that I have elbow gout, for all the obvious reasons. On the other hand, apparently once you get gout, you’re susceptible to getting it many times in the future. And having this experience, I don’t feel like I need to relive it. And the comedic effect will diminish over time if I keep saying I have gout. Like Chicken Little, eventually people will grow tired of that. They’re not gonna respond to it in any way, shape, or form.
LP: Well, I wanted to ask a little about your special.
MIB: You don’t want to talk more about my elbow?
LP: I mean, I do, but I feel like people might want to hear about what you’re doing on Comedy Central.
MIB: OK, but my health…
LP: Your health is kind of secondary to that.
MIB: [sigh] All right. Let’s talk about my special. I don’t care.
LP: Why did it take you so long to get a stand-up special on Comedy Central?
MIB: I never tried before. ‘Cause I didn’t really do stand-up before. I started doing stand-up a few years ago. And then I signed with this new agent, this new stand-up agent about a year ago, maybe a little bit more. And I said, “What do you wanna do?” And he said, “This is what we’ll do—you’ll go on the road and then in about a year, we’ll do a Comedy Central hour-long special.” And I said, “You can just do that? You can just say, ‘I want to do a special,’ and they’ll say, ‘OK’?” And he said, “Don’t worry about it.” And then that’s what happened. I don’t know if he had to pay somebody off. I don’t know how exactly it came to be. But he just said we’ll do that, and then we did it. Can’t argue with that, somebody in show business who keeps their word.
LP: Now, what’s the main difference between stand-up and being a talking head on VH1?
MIB: You see a lot more torso in the stand-up. And if you’ve got a torso like I do, that’s something you want seen. Do I have rock hard abs? No. But I have gently cascading abs. That’s the main difference—my abs.
LP: How do you stay in shape when you’re traveling?
MIB: I do what Wham! did when they were getting ready to go out on their “Make It Big” tour, which is, I played badminton for hours and hours and hours.
LP: Wow, that’s a lot of badminton.
MIB: It’s at least three hours. But that’s what they did, and it worked for them. I see no reason to change something that’s already working. And, what’s nice is, I got Andrew Ridgeley to play badminton with me. He wasn’t doing anything.
LP: The title of your special is “Very Famous.” Are there any other celebrities out there who understand where you are, fame-wise?
MIB: I think there’s probably a handful of celebrities who kind of understand the rigors and the trials that I go through on a daily basis being very famous. The Dalai Lama comes to mind. Vladimir Putin comes to mind. Silvio Berlusconi. Neil Armstrong. Bigfoot. I think that’s probably it.
LP: And some of those people aren’t even on Twitter, so they don’t really get the full effect.
MIB: Well, without giving away too much, they all are. But a lot of them don’t want to be found on Twitter. Understand what I’m saying?
LP: Yes.
MIB: When you reach a certain level of fame, and let’s call that level the “very famous” level, you basically know everybody in that level. There’s just events that you find yourself at with these people. And also, like you were saying, there’s only a certain small group of people who can really, really understand. And I’m not even gonna try to explain it to you, because it’s like going to Hogwarts. They don’t start you off with the most complicated spells. You start off with the easy spells, because it’s all you can understand. So all I’m going to tell you is, it’s amazing to be this famous, and it’s hell to be this famous.
LP: Do you think that Josh Malina is jealous of you?
MIB: I can’t speak for Josh Malina, but if I could speak for him, I would say yes.
LP: I wanted to ask a little bit about “Sad, Sad Conversation”: how long do you think you can sustain it? Do you think it’s just going to keep going with lots of sad, sad or just mundane things to say?
MIB: I don’t know. I mean, it’s certainly not experiencing any tremendous growth, either creatively or in terms of viewership. But does it need to? You know, some things are fine just the way they are. I’m not looking for “Sad, Sad Conversation” to take off and be the thing that lights the world on fire. It probably will, but I’m not looking for that.
LP: I also wanted to ask about Twitter. Did you know that Favstar is down right now?
MIB: I don’t really know what Favstar is.
LP: You don’t know what Favstar is?
MIB: I know that it exists, but I don’t really know what it does, or what it’s for.
LP: Well, for people who are less famous than you are, you can see who stars your tweets and retweets them. So if you don’t have as many followers or as much general adulation, you can kind of get that gratification from seeing tiny little avatars starring your tweets.
MIB: Oh, I see. And then what do you do with that information?
LP: Oh, you just congratulate yourself.
MIB: You feel really, really good about yourself?
LP: You use it to replace whatever’s lacking in your life.
MIB: And what’s an average number of retweets that you get?
LP: Oh, it really depends. If you’re saying something political about Sarah Palin, you might get 50. If you’re talking about your gas, I don’t know, five. It really depends on who you are. But I just wanted you to know it was down. I don’t know if you have any pull there.
MIB: No, I’ve never been in touch with those people. As I said, I don’t really know what that service is.
LP: I guess you don’t need it. It’s more for us.
MIB: It’s nice that people like you have something like that.
LP: I agree! Do you feel like you’ve discovered new comedic voices through Twitter and WitStream?
MIB: Of course, of course. Many, many, many. There are so many funny people out there, yourself included.
LP: Well, thank you. I wasn’t even fishing for comp—I was a little bit fishing for compliments.
MIB: You obviously were, and that’s fine.
LP: What advice do you have for people who also want to have 1.6 million Twitter followers?
MIB: I guess the best thing to do would be—well, there’s two things you could do. The first thing would be to very, very good at Twitter. Just be excellent at it, and do it all the time. But the second, easier thing to do is just become very famous.
LP: And that’s just something that happens to you?
MIB: Well, no, I mean, you have to do it. But you should just do that.
LP: Well, that’s good to know. People will appreciate that advice. I wanted to close by asking if you’d like to see a picture of me dressed as McKinley for Halloween.
MIB: Sure.
LP: OK. I’m gonna put that on my blog then.


(Halloween, 2007.)

LP: Well, thanks so much for doing this, and for all your support.
MIB: Look, I consider us friends. But I don’t know how to pronounce your first name. Is it “Loo-is” or “Loo-ie”?
LP: It’s “Loo-is.”
MIB: OK. I didn’t know.
LP: Well, now you do. Now we’re closer. Is it “Ee-an” or “Eye-an”?
MIB: Either one.
LP: OK. I’m gonna say “Eye-an” like Ian Ziering.
MIB: There’s no bad press, right?
LP: Not at all.

“Very Famous” premieres at 11 p.m. this Saturday, August 6, on Comedy Central.

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One Response to “A conversation with Michael Ian Black”

  1. Lily August 4, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    I love everything about this interview.

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